Principle over Pathology

Bandy X. Lee
4 min readApr 28, 2022

Vladimir Putin may have targeted schools, maternity wards, hospitals, homes, and a theater sheltering children, but he and his gang are not in control of the places they occupy. There is a reason why: the occupiers have failed to win over the Ukrainians. The Ukrainian army has refused to surrender, even in cities badly damaged by bombardment, and Putin cannot understand why.

He expected an easy war, a conquest of Ukraine that would not last more than six weeks. Now, two months have passed. There is no pro-Russian puppet regime in Kyiv, and the thirst for self-governance and democracy is growing, not diminishing.

Imagine, too, the consequences of such a victory. In Washington, most people have long believed that Ukraine is part of a regional conflict, and that Ukraine is a piece of territory that the Russians care more about than we do and always will. But this is no longer true. The Ukrainians, and especially their president, Volodymyr Zelensky, have made their cause a global one by arguing that they fight for a set of universal ideas — for democracy, yes, but also for a form of civic nationalism, based on patriotism and a respect for the rule of law; for a peaceful Europe, where disputes are resolved by institutions and not warfare; for resistance to dictatorship. Zelensky has urged Americans to remember Pearl Harbor. He appealed to the German Parliament with the phrase “Never again” — a mantra used to mean that no Hitler would be allowed to arise again — and told members that, in light of the brutal war in his country, those words are now “worthless.”

This language is effective because it evokes the principles that bind together the majority of Europeans, Americans, and many other people around the world, reminding them of how much worse the world was in the bloodier past, and how much worse it could be in the future if those principles no longer matter. The words Zelensky uses also reverberate because a victory for Ukraine really will be a victory for all who believe in democracy and the rule of law. Citizens of existing democracies and members of the democratic opposition in Russia, Cuba, Belarus, and Hong Kong will all be emboldened. “Their struggle is ours,” a Venezuelan acquaintance told me last week. The institutions protecting the states that embody those ideas, most notably the European Union and NATO, will be strengthened too.

Zelenskys words resonated further because the Russians have also given this conflict enormous significance. The Russian foreign minister…

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Bandy X. Lee

Forensic psychiatrist, violence expert, president of the World Mental Health Coalition (worldmhc.org), and New York Times bestselling author.